The Blackhawks are just a year removed from winning the Stanley Cup, but much has changed in Chicago. Last summer witnessed the dismantling of much of that championship roster for salary cap reasons, and the turnover continued this offseason with a slew of new moves. The Blackhawks focused on building back up some of the depth lost last summer, adding character and grit through free agency. Now they have to see if that will be enough to play deep into the spring once again.
2010-11 Record: 44-29-9, 97 points (3rd Central Division; 8th Western Conference; lost to Vancouver in first round, 4-3)
Bruins record against Blackhawks: Boston holds a 260-235-79-3 edge in the all-time series against their Original Six rival. The Bruins won 3-0 behind a 32-save effort by Tim Thomas in the only meeting last season at the Garden on March 29, but Shawn Thornton lost a lot of blood when he took a skate to the face and the rest of the hockey world lost a lot of respect for the Blackhawks when Thornton was chirped from the bench as he skated off the ice bleeding profusely.
When to watch: Thornton will get his chance to have a few words of his own with the Blackhawks on Oct. 15 when the Bruins visit Chicago for the clubs' only meeting this season.
Familiar faces: Defensemen Steve Montador and Sean O'Donnell, two of the latest additions to the Chicago roster, used to patrol the Boston blue line. The Blackhawks have also dipped into the New England talent pool in recent drafts, taking Boston University defenseman Adam Clendening in the second round this year and Boston College forward Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) in the first round last year. Chicago also traded for Hayes' brother Jimmy, who signed with the Blackhawks after BC's season last spring and finished the year with their AHL affiliate in Rockford. Former BC star Ben Smith made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks last season. Swedish forward Viktor Stalberg has New England ties as well, as he played at the University of Vermont before turning pro.
Key additions: F Andrew Brunette (free agent); D Sean O'Donnell (free agent); D Steve Montador (free agent); F Daniel Carcillo (free agent); F Jamal Mayers (free agent); D Sami Lepisto (free agent); F Rostislav Olesz (trade with Florida); G Ray Emery (camp invite).
Key losses: F Troy Brouwer (trade with Washington); D Brian Campbell (trade with Florida); F Tomas Kopecky (trade with Florida); F Jake Dowell (signed with Dallas); D Chris Campoli (free agent, Blackhawks walked away from arbitration award); G Marty Turco (free agent); F Fernando Pisani (free agent); F Ryan Johnson (free agent); D Jordan Hendry (free agent)
Burning question: Will the renewed emphasis on grit and toughness pay off for the Blackhawks?
Perhaps attempting to follow a bit of Boston's blueprint for success, the common theme for Chicago's additions this summer was an attempt to bulk up and improve the team's overall toughness. That was an ingredient sorely lacking last year as the salary cap purge stripped Chicago of most of its grit outside of hulking enforcer John Scott, who saw little ice time. The Blackhawks addressed that shortcoming this offseason by signing tough guys capable of playing a regular shift in Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, O'Donnell and Montador. The Bruins succeeded in part because of the toughness stacked throughout their lineup, which wore down opponents and also contributed to the chemistry and camaraderie that was so much a part of Boston's identity. The Blackhawks don't need to look to Boston for proof of the need to balance skill and toughness, though. Their own championship squad in 2010 featured valuable role players who added much-needed size and grit with the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Adam Burish.
2011-12 outlook: The Blackhawks have improved their depth and toughness, but their chances of making a run at another Cup will be determined by the play of their core of stars. Jonathan Toews (32-44-76 last season), Patrick Kane (27-46-73 in 73 games), Patrick Sharp (34-37-71) and Marian Hossa (25-32-57) give Chicago some serious firepower up front, while Brent Seabrook (9-39-48) and Duncan Keith (7-38-45, minus-1) headline a solid defense corps. Keith regressed from his Norris-winning form of 2009-10 (14-55-69, plus-21), but remains one of the best blueliners in the league. Chicago also appears set in goal after Corey Crawford enjoyed a stellar rookie campaign with a 33-18-6 record, 2.30 GAA and .917 save percentage. With better depth to support them after their offseason moves, that nucleus should be strong enough to have the Blackhawks back among the West's elite and poised for a deep playoff run.
Did you know? Just 14 months removed from their 2010 Stanley Cup championship, just eight of the Blackhawks players who had their names engraved on the Cup for that title remain with Chicago.
With the bulk of the offseason moves complete and the start of another NHL season inching closer, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be previewing one team from each conference every day through August 26.
Saturday, August 13: Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders
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